Monday, March 26, 2012

The need for a positive vision for New Zealand

Recently David Shearer , the Leader of the Labour Party, presented  his long awaited vision for a 'new' New Zealand. The Sunday Times ( March 25th) responded saying that 'The Labour Party is finally pushing its new leader to the front of the stage' and continued Shearer 'has to do more' and that 'a Labour Party that genuinely wanted to transform New Zealand could grow a constituency for itself' as 'people are suddenly questioning capitalism and the free market model, they're discussing issues of inequality and there's more hostility towards higher socio-economic groups'. Labour's challenge is 'give a very clear definition of what progressive Labour stands for'. Shearers vision speech was seen as 'reasonable first step' - further speeches need to 'paint a clear picture' - it looked  like Shearer was saying 'I'm not going to scare the horses'.

I wanted to be positive about Shearer's speech but  his sorting out 'good teacher from bad teacher' emphasis put me off. Read what Kelvin Smythe had to say and also his follow up. Kelvin wasn't pleased!

Lets look at Shearer's speech.

Shearer made it clear that we can't just keep on doing what we've been doing.  The 'market forces ideology' which has been centre stage in New Zealand politics for decades ( no matter the party in power) has run its course. The issue now is to develop a  new set of coherent ideas to replace its dominance.

'Anyone who thinks we can make things better here without making big changes is dreaming'  'What is missing', Shearer said, 'was vision'.  People, he said, 'want  leaders to have a clear idea of where we are going, and how we are going to get there, and what we're going to do to make it happen'.

His vision, he said, was straightforward , 'New Zealand should be a place where people know that they can get ahead, a place where the rest of the world wants to live and a place we can all be proud of'.

All a little vague to my mind.

In an attempt to clarify his vision Shearer referred to Finland a country that fought Russia to a standstill in WW2 and since then has transformed itself by appreciating that only 'brains and talent were going to take them forwards'. They had, Shearer said, 'transformed their economy through innovation and talent. They put at the centre of everything they had great teachers and schools and great science research and development'.

At this point I could see a real vision emerging: 'A 'new'  inclusive New Zealand based on realising the talents and gifts of all citizens' - not one valuing only those who  reap the rewards of such gifts - the current world of the rich and growing poor.

The philosophy of one of New Zealand's great thinkers seemed to coming through loud and clear - the late Sir Paul Callaghan. Shearer, echoing Sir Paul, said  we need 'a completely new New Zealand'  not 'a bit of tinkering here and some adjusting there and leaving the rest to the market'. Shearer, reflecting Sir Paul, wants to 'achieve a shift to a new job-rich, high value economy'.

This, he said, 'means looking at everything through new lens.Everything. It means questioning the comfortable assumptions we make'.

We aren't as clean and green as we think we are - we 'fall well behind environmental standards of many European countries. Our environment should be seen as a driver of our economic success rather than a hindrance. We have a smart creative people and a clean , green branding...My aim is make that branding a reality.'

At this point Shearer turned his attention to education:

'I want this new New Zealand to be built on our skills and talents', but then added, 'I frankly doubt the education system we have today can do what we'll be asking of it. Education is everything.We know that. Get that right, and everything flows from it.'

Rather questioning the sorting and classifying aspects of industrial age antiquated system Shearer turns his attention to at best a distraction - the importance of quality teaching rather that the culture of standardized  secondary system which does so poorly in realizing less academic students talents. Of course the  quality of the teachers is important  but to lay blame for lack of achievement on them avoids more important issues and is right wing educational thinking at best. Hardly challenging basic assumptions - only 'tinkering'.

It is a shame Shearer didn't have a conversation with Steve Maharey Minister of education when Labour was last in Government. Maharey was keen on the ideas of personalising learning rather than continuing with the standardised model that is being enforced by the current government. It is also a shame  that Shearer didn't resurrect the 2007 New Zealand National Curriculum  with it philosophy of all students to becoming 'lifelong, connected  learners - all able to 'seek , use, and create their own knowledge'. And it was shame that he didn't talk about what Finland is really doing in education which is the opposite of what is being imposed in New Zealand ( and in the UK, USA and Australia - all counties well behind Finland and New Zealand in International testing,)

No, Mr Shearer it is not about giving our 16 year old students 'training before they drop out' to give them 'a chance of of an entirely different life'.  Shearer is right though in saying that students 'need to be equipped to do the job we're going to ask them to do' but it is not 'training'.. instead what all students need are strong learning identities,  with their talents identified,  and equipped with all the  necessary skills and dispositions in place for them to realise their dreams.

Shearer is right though to  'focus on education because it is fundamental to making the country' - only his answer is wrong!  He is right to  say he has 'chosen education because it's such a good example of something we imagine we're doing right, but where we need to excel and lead the world' but he is wrong in saying it needs overhauling - it needs transformation.

 He lost a great opportunity to revive the 2007 National Curriculum.He lost a chance to push a vision of education of a means to identify  and amplify the talents and gifts of all students from the very first days they enter formal schooling. He lost the  chance to personalise learning - to revive the vision of Peter Fraser  who wanted education to provide every learner the chance to realise their innate gifts.

I think Shearer needs to really study how Finland has developed its education system before sorting out 'best and poor' teachers teaching in an antiquated system.

Maybe a re-read of Sir Paul Callaghan's book 'Wool to Weta' is required by him to clarify his educational vision.

If we want to develop New Zealand as a creative and entrepreneurial country then the place to start this creative culture is in schools. Sir Paul's advice was to 'look to where the talents lie' - what better place than in early education before students dreams are neglected by the desire by schools to prove traditional achievement.

It is in school where young kiwis should see their future - the school culture should focus on ensuring all students can stand tall. The potential  assets of New Zealand lie latent within the heads of our young - that many students leave alienated is our fault not theirs.

Good teachers don't 'teach' or 'train'; they create the conditions for students to take a growing responsibility for their own learning; they provide a stimulating and challenging learning environments; they provide authentic learning projects  to spark their curiosity; and they develop positive and respectful relationships so as to provide timely advice and feedback.

Good teacher build on their  students 'default' dispositions -  their  need to make meaning of their experiences. Schools ought to be about giving real creative opportunities for all students so as to tap into their student's interests;  'to excite kids and to get some passion about what they're learning', writes another contributor.

We need to ensure all students leave the school system with their passion and enthusiasm for learning intact - and with a desire to give things a go, to learn through their mistakes and to continually improve. Entrepreneurs.

Sir Richard Taylor (Weta Workshops)  when asked how do you find the talent you need replied to Sir Paul that it 'bubbles out' in the right environment .The attributes Sir Richards looks for  'in order of importance are, passion, enthusiasm, tenacity and the talent. Talent  of course is a very  important thing ...but without passion and without enthusiasm ,and of course the great New Zealand "stickability"  you have nothing'.

Sound like a good kindergarten class to me. Teachers in such environments are 'shaping young minds' - as another contributor to book says, 'you've got to get kids engaged at seven or eight years of age' - he was referring to science activities and continued 'if you don't it's hard to get them to pursue science type subjects at secondary school.' I would add start from birth and change how science is taught to complete the picture.

I think if David Shearer had outlined a more transformational model of education he would've begun the development of the beginning of a bold  new vision for our future prosperity.

David Skilling ( chief Executive of  New Zealand Institute)  believes we have the 'raw DNA to do it'. 'It is ecosystem you create around that'....'New Zealand has an existing leadership position by virtue of the talent we have or could have prospectively have'. He says 'we don't have a clear sense of what sort of economy we really want to build.'...'We haven't gone beyond the rhetoric'.

Hopefully this is the vision David Shearer has begun to articulate?

Whatever he needs to come up with a vision we can all buy into.

Education is central to such a vision but so far Shearer hasn't seen its true potential.

Sir Paul finishes his book  by saying 'talent is a reource' and that the 'transformative culture shift' will come when New Zealand is seen as the  'most beautiful , stimulating and exciting place to live and work.

That's a dream worth having.


Anonymous said...

All I can say is thank you Bruce. Let's hope the Labour Party has the courage to create a compelling vision to transform our country. And Sir Paul and Sir Richard are wonderful exemplars.

Bruce said...

People have to know what Labour stnds for - I think ther values are clear but their direction not so much.

Anonymous said...

I too say thank you Bruce. I endorse the comments of the firat contributor.

Anonymous said...

I hope someone in the Labour Party reads your thoughts - so far their leaders 'new' direction isn't grabbing anybody as yet.